Tag Archives: Therese of Avila

The Crown of Glory & the Decadence of Contemporary Conflict

“Many therefore of his disciples, when they had heard this, said, This is an hard saying; who can hear it? 

When Jesus knew in himself that his disciples murmured at it, he said unto them, Doth this offend you?What and if ye shall see the Son of man ascend up where he was before? It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”

John 6:60-62

In a post on the Templar Wisdom blog regarding the treatment of captured Templars during the crusades  I came across the following observation:

Historian Karen Ralls claims that Saladin often reserved the nastiest post-battle treatment for the Templars and Hospitallers on account of their penchant for pain

I had noticed this the other day while reading Ralls’ work and it lead me to reflect on the conceptual barriers we encounter in seeking to understand traditional warfare. We see through eyes darkened by our present leaders and conflicts, and never guess that there could be more to the art of war than the debased sadism and chaos that we see today.

This is not to whitewash the terror of war in any age, nor to support some idealized vision of conflict. The important point to realize is that there are different perspectives that can be taken, different understandings that can help to mitigate the horror and move towards a greater understanding of peace.

In the Islamic Tradition Martyrdom is considered a gift which immediately negates all past sins, this is the same in the Christian Tradition where the “Crown of Martyrdom” or “Crown of Glory” is seen as the assurance of faith. It is an aspect of the Mystery of sacrifice, and despite what fundamentalists think today, is not an active pursuit, but something made necessary in particular situations, such as times of war or oppression.

It  should not be taken in the sense of suicide bombers who take the lives of others, or any other forms of outward violence. Martyrdom is an inward process, and a last resort. In the traditional depictions of martyrs they are faced with a situation from which there is no escape other than an affirmation of faith and an acceptance of their fate. It is the ultimate seal of patience with the horror of a world that has lost it’s central guide post.

For I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” – (Galatians 6:17)

For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: And that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” – (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)

I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

“”Which one of the Prophets did your fathers not persecute, and they killed the ones who prophesied the coming of the Just One, of whom now, too, you have become betrayers and murderers.” (Acts 7:52)

And most specifically in the figure of Stephen, the first Martyr, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.” (Acts 7:56) where Martyrdom is equated with the Transfiguration.

Within this mirrored tradition  Saladin was in part honoring the Templars by making them Martyrs.

Friends on that day will be foes one to another, save those who kept their duty,” Quran Surah 43:67

On no soul do We place a burden greater than it can bear: before Us is a record which clearly shows the truth: they will never be wronged.” Quran Surah 23:62

These verses from the Quran form a counter point to the writings of the Apostles:

But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified.

But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf.

For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? ” 1 Peter 4:13-17

Which then leads back to the Quran:

And (Jesus) shall be a Sign (for the coming of) the Hour (of Judgment): therefore have no doubt about the (Hour), but follow ye Me: this is a Straight Way.” Quran Surah 43:61

In our contemporary understanding we have a difficult time coming to terms with this relationship to G-d, however Muhammad had nothing but praise for Jesus and the Quran is fairly explicit about the validity of his Spirit.  Stories about Saladin and Richard Coeur d’Leon outline the mutual respect that was shown between these leaders during the 3rd Crusade. This is the same level of respect Saladin was showing the Templars when he gave the the highest honor he could to those who took up arms for their faith. The brutal realities of the situation should not be forgotten, however the cultural narrative in which the events took place is important for understanding the actions.

Richard Coer d’Leon’s historical track record is not necessarily as honorable as the stories told about him,  and it is important to distinguish between the possibilities pointed to in folklore, story and myth, and the reality of war. There is, however, a sense that something has changed, today the possibility for this kind of mutual respect is greatly mitigated by the use of contemporary technology, theory and techniques.

The traditions of Chivalry in Islam and Christianity are nearly identical. Dr. Javad Nurbakhsh gives  a helpful outline of Islamic Chivalry, which shows the similarities, and parallels to, the development of this Tradition in the West:

Before Islam appeared, the tradition of chivalry (javanmardi) in the Middle East was maintained through the training of men to be chevaliers (javanmardan).

The tradition of chivalry involved consideration for others (morowwat), self-sacrifice (ithar), devotion (fada-kari), the helping of the unfortunate and unprotected, kindness towards all created beings, keeping one’s word and self-effacement – all qualities that were later to emerge as the noble attributes of the perfect human being from the point of view of Sufism.

In addition to these attributes of a true human being, the chevaliers were committed to a particular code of etiquette and conventions, from which the main objective and principles of chivalry or javanmardi were derived.

With the appearance of Islam, these chevaliers embraced the religion of Islam while retaining the conventions of chivalry, thereby founding the creed of Sufism on the basis of both Islam and chivalry. Thus, the etiquette of the chevaliers became part of the practice of the khaniqah and of the Sufis.

Gradually, as the philosophy of the Unity of Being (wahdato’l-wojud) and divine love were made more profound and appealing by Sufi masters, the tradition of chivalry, hand-in-hand with it, gained an extraordinary influence and currency. The spirit of Sufism consisted of focusing one’s gaze in one direction (towards God) through the power of love, and its method was to cultivate a humane code of ethics, which was equated with that of the chevaliers.

In Hinduism we can see this in the Kshatriya, or ‘warrior caste’. The Bhagavad Gita gives a succinct description of this Tradition:

Arjuna told Krishna, “Take us out between the armies.”

Krishna positioned the chariot halfway between the armies, and stopped. It was quieter there; both armies were distant; Arjuna looked out.

“I see my brothers there, my cousins, my uncles, the beloved sons of my beloved friends.”

He swung around.

“And there also, there are my cousins, my uncles, the beloved sons of my beloved friends. They are all my brothers, Krishna. It cannot be lawful to kill them. I cannot kill them. I will have no part of this action.”

Krishna answered. “There can be no blame for law-minded action, if you act with the proper dispassionate attitude. You must do the right thing, and be heedless of consequence.”

Arjuna said, “Krishna, all those people are going to die. I will not be responsible for their deaths.”

“Quite right,” said Krishna.

“What do you mean?”

Krishna explained. “We act as instruments of dharma. Everybody on this field today is working out karmic dramas that extend back through lifetimes upon lifetimes. You and I, my best true friend, have been preparing for this battle for hundreds of lifetimes. I remember every one of them. You don’t.”

Arjuna studied his friend.

“Krishna, who are you?”

And there was a flash of light, bright as a thousand suns, and Arjuna saw Krishna’s cosmic form as Narayana, one of the great gods. There, all at once, were all of the planets and all of the stars and all of the gods and all of the demons and spirits, gandarvhas and apsaras, all of the sages and saints, all of the priests and warriors, all that is and all that ever was and all that will be. Arjuna saw, and felt, endless perfect love swelling to fill the everything that Krishna had become. And he saw all the gory deeds that were ever done and the carnage that must come with time; he saw Krishna tall as mountains, black as night, his eyes blazing as he waded through rivers of blood, the mangled corpses of Duryodhana and his brothers dangling from his bloody jaws.

“Krishna, stop!” Arjuna fell to the chariot floor, his head in his hands. “Be just my friend again.”

“But you see how it is, Arjuna,” said Krishna, as he helped his friend up. “You cannot kill them, because they are dead already; their own actions have doomed them. You cannot be responsible for their deaths, because each one is responsible for his own death. In each lifetime, each one does what he has to do, and if he does it selflessly, in love of me, without regard for gain or loss, he may come finally to rest in my perfection and be free of the cycles of action and death.

So was it maliciousness on Saladin’s part that lead him to treat the Templars as he did? Or rather respect and full faith in the Divine Will outside of any temporal appearances? In exploring the second possibility there is no need for a justification of violence.  These same Traditions speak more highly of Peace than they do of war, and it would be foolish to use specific examples to put what has been taught out of necessity above what is longed for by any rational person.

These Traditions only hold true for those living within their narrative, and none of the leaders in today’s conflicts show even the slightest hint of this being the case. We are lead to mistake the contemporary secular and sectarian organizations that have assumed the outward trappings of religion for a true tradition.

Remember that John of the Cross, Francis of Assisi, and Therese of Avila were all persecuted for “excessive piety” by secular factions within the Church hierarchy.  Shahab al-Din Suhrawardi, known as Shaikh al-Ishraq (Master of Illumination) and  Shaikh al-Maqtul (Murdered Sheikh), was Martyred by Saladin’s son when he took over his fathers place.  Al-Hallaj was Martyred by Fundamentalists for the same crime as Jesus the Nazarene.

To view the Church or religion as a unity in it’s physical manifestation is to miss that the only Unity that exists is in G-d, thus Muhammed can speak in praise of the “People of the Book” and Buddhism can speak of “hidden buddhas” and “buddhas of all times and places” and Prophets in Judaism can say that the people of G-d will be taught by a stranger.

Islam means “submission” and Muslim “one who submits”, Catholic means “universal”, it’s only when we start taking secular authority and secular organizations for the truth that divisions arise due to sectarian beliefs that are inconsequential to the teachings of any Tradition. Pythagoras, Diogenes of Sinope, Aristotle, Plato, Avicennia, etc. were all accepted by Orthodox authorities within the Christian Tradition. Similarly Islamic Tradition affords the utmost respect to all people of Faith. Whether this is carried through by the fundamentalist secular organizations that assume wearing a cross or a star and crescent give them authority over the Faithful has no bearing on the reality that these Traditions speak of.

If these Traditions do not justify today’s conflict, they serve as a heavy critique for the inhuman, technologically driven, and calculated massacres that are sanctioned by the world’s leaders. These are not battles with the possibility for redemption, these are a vile continuation of the same debased logic that lead to the tragedies perpetuated in every conflict since the first World War.  The mechanical horrors of mustard gas, aerial bombings and automatic weapons have progressed to the point where we have adopted their logic into our own concept of warfare and at the end of that road lies only a cold metal abyss.

Fiat pax in virtute tua: et abundantia in turribus tuis.
Propter fratres meos et proximos meos, loquebar pacem de te:
Propter domum Domini Dei nostri, quaesivi bona tibi.
Rogate quae ad pacem sunt Jerusalem: et abundantia diligentibus te. (Ps.121.)
Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto, sicut erat in principio et nunc et semper, et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

Peace be within thy walls, And prosperity within thy palaces.
For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will now say, Peace be within thee.
Because of the house of the Lord our God I will seek thy good.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: They shall prosper that love thee.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Ghost,as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen

The Hearth Fire

Appalachia has a strong Scotch-Irish history, many of the settlers that ended up in the Appalachian mountain range were from Gaelic colonists moving West as the solidification of the United States during the 18th and 19th century conflicted with their ideas of fair taxation and freedom to practice their trades without the interference of government regulations.

In the process of this migration they encountered other groups facing similar displacement;  indigenous cultures and freed slaves that had found refuge in the wilderness of Appalachia seeking to escape from the expanding horizons of the fast forming United States. This intermixing of cultures provides a place where ancient traditions and various lines of transmission came together to produce a potent folk life which unconsciously holds the seeds of gnosis.

In Gaelic communities the beginning of February is marked by the festival of Imbolc, Christianized as the feast day of St. Brigid. This celebration is held in the honor of the first appearance of spring, represented in Gaelic myth as Brigid, the Bride.

She is goddess of the household fire; her position is that of the hearth goddess Vesta, as much as that of Minerva, for evidently she is primarily a fire-goddess. Her name is probably from the same root as the English bright, Gaelic brco. The British goddess, Brigantia, is doubtless the same as the Irish Brigit Mr Whitley Stokes picks out the following instances in proof of her character as a fire-goddess; she was born at sunrise; her breath revives the . dead; a house in which she stays flames up to heaven; she is fed with the milk of a white red-eared cow; a fiery pillar rises from her head, and she remains a virgin like the Roman goddess, Vesta, and her virgins—Vesta, whom Ovid tells us to consider ” nothing else than the living flame, which can produce no bodies.” Cormac calls her the daughter of the Dagda. “This Brigit,” he says, “is a poetess, a goddess whom poets worshipped. Her sisters were Brigit, woman of healing; Brigit, woman of smith work; that is, goddesses; these are the three daughters of the Dagda.”

Celtic Mythology & Religion, Alexander McBain

Fire is a potent traditional symbol of the eternal spirit, and the hearth fire is, in some ways, a continuation of this symbol in the domestic setting. Here the house becomes a temple to the eternal, an outward manifestation of the temple built within the believers, the faithful and the gnostics.

“When a traditional form is on the point of becoming extinct, its last representatives may very well deliberately entrust to this aforesaid collective memory the things that otherwise would be lost beyond recall; that is in fact the sole means of saving what can in a certain measure be saved. At the same time, that lack of understanding that is one of the natural characteristics of the masses is a sure enough guarantee that what is esoteric will be nonetheless undivulged, remaining merely as a sort of witness of the past for such as, in later times, shall be capable of understanding It.”

Symbols of the Sacred Science, Rene Guenon

Appalachia, as the center point of migration for the remnants of so many traditional cultures, became a storehouse for these traditional forms. The manifestations of the Holiness Churches, of Hoodoo, and Deutsch Pow Wow among the Amish and Mennonite, show that even when these transmissions were weakened by forgetfulness, their manifestations still continue to hold the powerful impetus of true tradition, that “rock of ages” that can never be destroyed.

“Minerva is the fifth and last deity mentioned by Caesar as worshipped by the Gauls—their goddess of arts and industry. A passage in Solinus, and another in Giraldus Cambrensis, enable us to decide, with absolute certainty, what goddess answered among the Gaels to the position of Minerva. Solinus (first century A.D.) says that in Britain, Minerva presides over the hot springs, and that in her temple there flamed a perpetual fire, which never whitened into ashes, but hardened into a strong mass.

Giraldus (12th century A.D.) informs us that at the shrine of St Brigit at Kildare, the fire is allowed never to go out, and though such heaps of wood have been consumed since the time of the Virgin, yet there has been no accumulation of ashes. “Each of her nineteen nuns has the care of the fire for a single night in turn, and on the evening before the twentieth night, the last nun, having heaped wood upon the fire, says, ‘Brigit, take charge of your own fire, for this night belongs to you.’ She then leaves the fire, and in the morning it is found that the (ire has not gone out, and that the usual quantity of fuel has been used.” This sacred fire was kept burning continually for centuries, and was finally extinguished, only with the extinction of the monasteries by Henry VIII.”

Celtic Mythology & Religion, Alexander McBain

By 1850 the U.S. census shows that there were 961,719 Irish living in the United States, stretching from Illinois to the east coast. By this time they had already spread into Appalachia, taking with them the traditions they had kept alive at home. Each time the secular authories (whether by government or religion) sought to divide the people quietly pursued the truth.

When the community temples are destroyed, the eternal flame is taken home by the faithful. The Divine presence in the famed European cathedrals exists in the very measurements used to create them, Pythagorean mathematics that contain secrets of the eternal fire.  In the most material understanding these are manifest in the allegorical and symbolic statues and stained glass that adorn the cathedral, but the heart of the secret lies in the very roots of the cathedral’s construction.

When these truths are displaced from the fine edifice of monuments like the cathedrals, something as simple as a hearth fire keeps the secret alive among the people who await the purification of the community.

Thig an nathair as an toll
Là donn Brìde,
Ged robh trì troighean dhen t-sneachd
Air leac an làir.

“The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bride,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground.”

Carmina Gaelica, Alexander Carmicheal (1900)

Alexander Carmichael collected the folk traditions of the Gaelic people of Scotland in the late 19th century, and discovered that despite institutional attacks from the organized church to stamp out “pagan” practices, in secret the people still carried many of their ancient traditions.

Brigit, the Bride, symbol of wisdom and fire, lived on in the people’s hearts, prayers and blessings awaiting the day when those would come who could hear her again. Just as her release from the Crone of Winter is celebrated in the first days of Spring, her memory sleeps in the Winter of a fallen culture.

“The mystical truth which is realized in the sage is virtual in the folk. If the folk are the field, the sage is the fruit of the tree which grows in the center of it, a fruit which, even as it takes its place in the eternal domain of God’s attributes, also cyclically returns to the field from which it grew, via its seed, to propagate wisdom. The folk correspond to the Aristotelian materia, that which receives the imprint of forms, and the sage to forma, that which shapes or “informs” the material which allows it to appear. And the tree corresponds to Tradition in the sense employed by French metaphysician René Guénon: that body of spiritual Truth, lying at the core of every religious revelation and a great deal of folklore and mythology, which has always been known by the “gnostics” of the race since it is eternal in relation to human time, representing as it does the eternal design or prototype of Humanity itself. A traditional culture permeated by half-understood mystical lore on the folk level is a fertile matrix for the full development of the gnostic, the sagacious individual, who, by means of his darshan, his willingness to allow himself to be contemplated as a representative of spiritual Truth, returns the seed of wisdom to the folk who venerate him.”

“Fair Nottamun Town”: Mystical and Alchemical Symbolism in an Appalachian Folk Song, Charles Upton

In folk etymologies there are hidden secrets that dance around the investigations of scholars. In the Sanas Cormaic, a 19th century collection of Gaelic etymologies, Brigit’s Gaelic name, Breo Saighead, was said to mean “the fiery arrow.”  Academic etymologist’s scoff at such an attribution and miss the line of truth that it transmits.

I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it…”

– Therese of Avila

We so often seek the flame in those that reflect the outward power of our culture. In celebrities and scholars, in political leaders and religious figures, our expectations are put to bring us some shred of truth to move forward with.  All the while, in quiet homes in rural Appalachia, and around the world in places where the tradition has been pushed to the wilds, the true fire burns bright, awaiting those who can see it to herald the Spring.

Be You East or West

Jeremy Johnson, who writes for Single Eye Movement and curates the Evolutionary Landscapes site, posted a wonderful reflection on the practice of contemplation.

In the Western world this tradition has been pushed to the background of our spiritual heritage due to misunderstanding the practice and charges of heresy. In the late Medieval period and into the Renaissance, these practices were assigned the term Quietism and labeled as part of the Gnostic heresy. In more contemporary times literalist groups claim that the practice of contemplation “leaves the doors open to satanic influences” and are very suspicious of any mention of meditation or contemplation.

It is surprising then to find that the authorities in all branches of the Christian Tradition, Catholocism, Orthodox and Protestant, have been well versed in the contemplative practice. In Catholicism many of the most revered saints, such as Therese of Avila, were deeply engaged in this practice, the Philokalia which collects the writings of the early church fathers, and forms a core authoritative text for the Orthodox tradition, is, as a whole, an exposition on Divine contemplation, and the writings from the founders of the various Protestant sects are also fully engaged with the practice.

Jeremy’s examination is an excellent introduction which shows how true contemplation moves beyond these charges of Quietism and demonic influence and provides a very active connection to a higher reality that is so necessary in these trying times.

This was written on the Evolutionary Landscape’s twitter: Contemplative practice is not being silent for the sake of a quiet mind. It is seeing through, like a dart piecing beyond the veil. Gnosis is the “spiritual intellect.” A knowing, a being-in-truth. It’s important to remember this is at the heart of contemplation. Be you East or West in tradition, contemplation brings one to the edge of human perception and in contact with the Eternal. Many … Read More

via mystical inklings